Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Flavian Amphitheatre or Amphitheatrum Lazaruium

     In the modern era, none of us are competing in the arena before an emperor or throngs of cheering Romans.  Although it's very clear that Big's Backyard is not "The Coliseum", it is "a coliseum."  Laz is no Titus, however one could imagine him to be an emperor of sorts as well.  What's ironic is someone using a nom de guerre of Hebrew origin, celebrating a race cast in the historical context of a "gladiatorial fight to the death", when it was the imperial Roman Flavian dynasty who not only built "The Coliseum" but also destroyed the Jewish Second Temple.  Laz has put together a simple concept in a race, with no gimmicks.  For anyone who's ever said they will never quit, please come to this event.  This is no obstacle course race with faux challenges.  This race is the most authentic spectacle imagined in regards to one's will to continue.
     The concept is very simple.  At the start of the hour all the runners start running a 4.166 mile loop, and must complete that loop every hour. At the start of the second hour, this process is repeated again, and again.  You must answer the bell each time, at the start time, or you are out.  Every one is in first place at the start of each hour.  This process continues until every one quits, except the last man (or woman).  It's only 4 miles per hour.  A 15 minute pace.  Anyone in decent shape can run a 15 min pace right?  If you've ever read Stephen King's "The Long Walk" then this idea is even more intriguing. 
     We started with 46 souls who, with steely determination, vowed to be the last man or woman standing.  I mean, with the inspirational shirt we were given, how could we not be inspired?  This is a re-print of the painting by Jean-Leon Gerome called Thumbs Down, or Pollice Verso.

     This event was scheduled to start at 0700, but Laz and crew decided to start it at 0645 to give the last daytime loop the max amount of light.   Materially it does not matter when it starts, you have 60 minutes to complete each loop.  At 0645 Laz rang the bell.  We sauntered off in the typical ultra-marathon way.  Which basically means there were a few claps and half the field began walking.
     To the Mike's great entertainment along with Laz and Bill, the race had begun.  I venture to guess that there were many side bets made throughout the day.  Who would be first out, who would be out on loop 4, etc...  I could only run.  I ran with a Garmin for the first few loops to make I knew where the mile splits were and the time that I should be at them.
     The Start of the trail loop had a short out n back on the road, which would take me about 5min.  Mile 1 was just past the log that you had jump over once you ran down hill from the Big house and turned hard left. About even with a big, round hay bale on your right, close to the fence.  You needed to be at the Big house at 55min after the hour and at 57 min after, the hay bale.  Mile 1.  Mile 2 was where a big rock was in the middle of the trail, after you passed the cave and crossed a dry creek.  That needed to be 11 min after the hour.  Mile 3 was where the lolly pop completes the circle and you run the handle back to the Big house, to the start.  You needed to be there at 24 min after the hour. Back to the Big house at 35 min after the hour.  If you did this, you could have 4 to 5 min to spare between loops.  As you can see from my splits here.  I was running about a 13:15 mile pace.   Not too fast, but not too slow.  Here is what the loop looked like. Based on my level of training since the end of June, that's the best I could do.  And really, why do you need 10 min to stand around every hour?
     As Loop 1 progressed into Loop 2 and so on, one by one, and slowly our motley crew began to dwindle.  Some of the runners, it was very evident that they would not last long.  Whereas others, when they were no longer running, you felt a bit bad for them.  Around loop 6 or 7 I tried to lure some folks into a mental trap.  On the out n back, I said loudly, to no one in particular, but hoping anyone would take the bait, "Man it sure is hot, I bet one of you just want to quit.  Prob just tired, huh?"  No one really took the bait on my trolling, but one guy mentioned he agreed about the heat.  I made a joke about why the devil don't live in Texas.  He don't live there because once he came to visit and was upset about the heat and went on back home.  Many woes befell each person.  Some may have had to poop, some may not have been able to keep the pace, some were laid to waste due to hydration or electrolyte issues. Some lesser men, stubbed their toe. :)  By the end of Loop 12, there were only 18 runners remaining of the original 46.  39% of the runners remained after only a measly 50 very slow miles. 
     We started Loop 13, with 18 jovial souls who may have been confident that they would, in fact, be around when the sun came up.  Still standing.  However, this fate was not to be.  I watched loop 13 and 14 pass, sizing up the remaining runners.  This road loop, was an out n back style, so you could see every runner.  It was dark and almost no one wore a headlamp. Until the moon actually rose, it was hard to make everyone out, exactly.  I noticed two runners, one male and the other female, running fast, way out front.  It just didn't make sense to me.  Why would the run so fast when they didn't have to?  I mentioned this to one of my compadres, and noted with glee, "By loop 22, the 10th road loop, the lady runner would be out."  I had numerous friends that were out there.  In the dark, shuffling, running.  I did not feel bad, except for my left Achilles tendon, and a blister on my right foot that developed on about loop 9 or so. 
     Gina crewed me all day, and had done so in 2014, the first time I tried this event.  She's basically a champ.  Every loop, every time, she had what I needed.  Mashed potatoes. Nobody can mash instant potatoes like my woman.  And she had 1.5 scoops of Carbo Pro, .5 scoops of Vitargo in a 20oz bottle.  I used the Clutch and the Amp soft bottle handhelds from UD.  The Amp sucks, the Clutch is good. Every loop, I'd be like, "Did you salt these potatoes?"  She'd be like, "Yea, I put a bunch."  No matter what she said, I said, "Gimme that salt shaker." Then I'd put salt on those potatoes until they glistened in the sunlight.  We bought Velveta cheese to put in the potatoes, but it made me puke so, no more queso.  I was fortunate that the Mike's kept her entertained between loops and her preparing for the next loop, or it would be tough to get her to help me, other than the fact that she loves me and that feeling is mutual.  Basically, crewing for this event is bullshit.  I'd never do that. I hate crewing.  I'm a selfish basterd.  
     I'd been dealing with plantar issues on my right foot  IT band issues on my left knee since late June.  So the night before the race I did a crap ton of myofasical release work.  During the inter-loopal period, I'd try to release my psoas, my glute med, and piriformis with a foam roller and other devices.  Also, I had Gina push my ankles to my ears while lying on my back.  Of course the Mike's got some nice laughs out of this move.  All of these techniques kept me going, so I'm not going to complain. 
     Out on the road we pined for the Sun.  May the God Apollo, lay his rays up us so that we awake from this nightmarish dream. This dream of never ending out n backs.  We lost many friends in the night.  The fast lady runner on loop 22, her beau on loop 20. Among others.  But not until the middle of the 24th loop did Apollo's chariot begin to make it's way across the sky.  At this time and since the end of loop 22, there had only been 4 weary travelers on the road.  In reality there were 4 travelers, two weary and two ripe as spring chickens.  Myself, I was a weary traveler. 
     Starting loop 25 us weary few, "band of brothers" answered the bell.  As John Donne graciously reminds us, "We asked not for whom the bell tolls, it tolled for thee."   I almost did not complete this loop. I knew I was done for.  But, a remaining spark, a faint spark, grew into a conflagration inside of me and I thought to myself, "I'm not going to time out on this lap."  With 17 min and a mile to go, I ran and did not stop until I reached the timing mat with 2.5 min to spare.  As heroic as I felt, within the next 25 min all was changed.  Loop 26 at about 2 miles in, I sat on a rock. I fell asleep briefly.  I woke up the instant that I fell asleep, walked to the next rock.  Just past the cave.  I sat on that rock and immediately fell asleep again.  I reversed the course, took off my bib, and walked in.  I ended up with 4th place and 25 loops.  In 2014, I ran 29 loops.  However, I was not disappointed.  This year, the race ended on loop 29.


John Danese said...

Nice work John. Usually I revel in the grandeur of the sights in long races in which I participate. This, by contrast, sounds like a whole diff'rnt level of mental challenge, a la Barkley's, to which I know you've also subjected yourself. Thanks for the education on this torturous test and, of course, the literary quotes.

johntsharp said...

Thanks John. I've never been a part of the real Barkley. Just the Fall Classic. Maybe one day. Hope to see you in the Sawatch this summer.